Animals feel emotions, even those of regret and disappointment, I thought I knew that, when I indulged in poetic anthropomorphism. In the book I have been reading on ‘The Inner Life of Animals’, the author Peter Wohlleben observes, that regret is an emotion which usually protects us from repeating our mistakes because it stops us wasting energy by engaging in dangerous or pointless behaviour over and over again.
Wohlleben draws attention to the work of researchers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis who observed rats in regard to both these emotions. He says //They built a special “restaurant row” for rats – a ring with four spokes leading to four different feeding zones. When a rat came to the entrance of one of the spokes, a sound indicated how long the wait for food would be: the higher the sound, the longer the wait. And now the rodents began to act like people. Some lost patience and went on to the next spoke in the hope they would be served more quickly. Sometimes, however, the sound was even higher there, meaning the wait time would be even longer. Now the animals looked wistfully back in the direction of the spoke where they had just been, but they also grew more determined not to change zones again but to wait longer for their food. People react in similar ways – for example, when we switch lines at the grocery store and realize we’ve made the wrong choice. The researchers detected patterns of activity in the brains of the rats similar to patterns in our brains when we mentally replay our predicament. That’s what makes regret different from disappointment. The latter kicks in when we don’t get what we were hoping for. In contrast, regret kicks in when we also realize there could have been a better outcome. And researchers Adam P. Steiner and David Redish discovered that rats can clearly do that //
The ability to gauge the future should help mitigate feelings of regret and disappointment, as one should then always know the right course of action. Since it is impossible to predict completely accurately, even the weather, one could simply change one’s perspective but this may be a major oversimplification.
What of the system itself that generates predictable trajectories, like in ‘the restaurant row’ created by the researchers, which invariably ends up with a slew of disappointed rats who now regret their choices unaware of how the system is designed.
Given this aforementioned research, I thought about the city crowds from a strictly zoomorphic perspective; the inefficiency of rush hour, the disappointed looking faces in an exaggerated hurry while the system draws to a crawl, and those blighted souls regretting the last minute dash into a busy supermarket. There is a self-sameness to it all, people moving through the paces of their groundhog rush hour.
The photos I took inside a subway tunnel in Manhattan. The poem though, is a work in progress.
The Grid, is freedom along angles run
amuck, between glimpses of the walking
white man, pixelated on a traffic light.
One can flee the compass, turn West,
then defiantly perambulate the perimeter
of an urban garden, for the thrill of green.
The city they say, crowded out the man,
but man is simply a crowd of one, among
the shadows that slink along the sidewalk,
until they slowly descend, into the entrails
of rat city, tunnelling predetermined paths.
Charting a course of darkness, through
the vast sea of breathless faces, where
a mosaic of tiles brighten the embedded
smiles and the haze of imprisoned light,
in the selfsame burrows of sunken places